Copyright 2009 WHR

By Jeffrey Howard

A little over two weeks ago the Tennessee Walking Horse Foundation (TWHF) came under scrutiny when members could not agree on the formation of a Standard of Good Practice Fund, which resulted in the resignation of executive director Mark Taylor and three board members, Janice Fostek, Kasey Kesselring and Kathy Zeis, President of the TWHF .  These four individuals had been instrumental in researching and developing the outline for this fund.  The members of the TWHF are approved by the executive committee of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ & Exhibitors’ Association (TWHBEA).

Since that time questions have been asked about why the need for the fund, what is the purpose of the fund and why was it not approved.  The TWHF has been the vehicle for many of the industry’s charitable funds, even though many did not realize it.  The TWHF was one of the groups that established the fund for Ellie Jackson after it was learned of her battle with cancer.  It has the Academy Fund which assists the Certified Riding Instructor program and sponsors the Academy Shows.  The TWHF has also recently established a Horse Donation program, which provides second careers for these horses and funding for those programs.

The industry has seen an incredible amount of scrutiny over the humane treatment and training of the Tennessee Walking Horse, however never before has it been as prevalent as it is today.  The Standard of Good Practice Fund was conceived as a way for the industry and the TWHF to help fund the initiatives in the White Paper, released in August 2008 by the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP).  This task force laid out clear objectives to end the abuse.

Upon release of the White Paper, an immediate concern of all Horse Industry Organizations (HIO) was funding the initiatives.  The National Horse Show Commission (NHSC) created a task force to recommend a restructure of the NHSC.  This restructure, presented by Dr. John Bennett, was unanimously approved by the Walking Horse Owners’ Association (WHOA), Walking Horse Trainers’ Association (WHTA) and the NHSC.  At that meeting, Bennett presented a plan, with a foundation of the White Paper, but also included research and technology, drug testing, regional veterinarians, etc. to insure the presentation of sound horses in the show ring.

Again the major hurdle with the restructure was funding of the programs.  At that point the TWHF went to work to establish a fund that would help in those areas where it could legally help with the funding.  The mission of the TWHF is to encourage support of, and funding for charitable, scientific, and educational projects for the welfare of the Tennessee Walking Horse while serving the needs of both the donor and the recipient. 
Some members of the TWHF questioned if the fund could support initiatives such as these.  Over the course of several conference calls it was determined that the TWHF could in fact legally support these types of initiatives.  Those members who voted for the Standard of Good Practice fund felt that the current crisis facing our industry fell exactly within the scope of the mission of the TWHF.  They also were committed to developing strict criteria along with short and long-term goals to aid the industry in areas of need.

In addition to donations, grant funding was to be a large part of the initiative.  Taylor and Kesselring, Grant Chair, had already begun work to start issuing grant proposals to foundations and any other avenue available for grant funding.

The Tennessee Walking Horse industry is looking for answers.  The TWHF presented one of those much needed answers, yet couldn’t garner enough support within its own board to move forward.  Kathy Zeis, Janice Fostek, Kasey Kesselring and Christy Lantis supported the fund, yet needing a majority of the eight persons on the call, a fifth vote was needed.  Jack Heffington and Debra Jack voted against the fund and David Pruett and Dee Dee Sale abstained from voting, citing a lack of enough information to cast a vote for the fund.  Because a fifth “yes” was needed to pass the fund, the abstained votes were in essence “no” votes.  Questions regarding funding and implementation remain and time is running out for answers to be found.